Petrographic studies of the impact melts from Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA




Abstract— We investigated the ballistically dispersed melts from Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA to determine the stratigraphic extent of its melt zone from the compositional relationship of melts and target rocks. Most melt particles are crystallized, hydrated, and oxidized; pristine glasses are rare. Hydration and oxidation occurred at ambient temperatures long after the impact. The preserved glasses are generally clear and texturally homogeneous, but unlike typical impact melts, they have unusually heterogeneous compositions, both within individual particles and from sample to sample. For example, the average SiO2 for individual particles ranges from 43 to 65%. The projectile content is unusually high and it is distributed bimodally, with specific samples containing either 5–10% or 20–30% FeO. These compositional heterogeneities most likely reflect the high carbonate content of the target rocks and the release of copious CO2 that dispersed the melts, thereby terminating melt flow and mixing. The high projectile content and the CO2 depleted residue of purely sedimentary rocks produced mafic melts that crystallized fine-grained olivine and pyroxene.

The melts fall into three compositional groups reflecting variable proportions of the major target formations, Moenkopi, Kaibab, and Coconino. Least-square mixing calculations revealed one group to contain 55% Moenkopi, 40% quartz-rich, upper Kaibab, and 5% meteorite, suggesting a source depth of <30 m from the pre-impact surface. The other two melt groups have higher contents of meteorite (15–20%) and Kaibab (50–70%) and contain more SiO2 than average Kaibab. The additional quartz may have been derived from Coconino or the upper Kaibab, implying melt depths >90 m or <30 m, respectively. Additional studies, especially hydrocode calculations, are needed to better understand the source depth of these melts and their exceptionally high projectile content.